Dec 15, 2000 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Runny Nose and Your Child's Cold

Am Fam Physician. 2000 Dec 15;62(12):2698.

What causes my child's runny nose?

A runny nose usually starts when your child's cold is starting to get better. When the cold virus first infects the nose and sinuses, the nose starts making lots of clear mucus. This mucus helps wash the virus out of the nose and sinuses.

After two or three days, as the body fights back, the mucus changes to a white or yellow color. As the bacteria that usually live in the nose grow back, they change the mucus to a greenish color. This is normal. It doesn't mean your child has an infection that needs to be treated with medicines like antibiotics.

Does a runny nose need to be treated?

No. Runny nose, cough, fever, headache and muscle aches may bother your child during a cold, but medicine won't make them go away faster. Using a cool mist vaporizer or giving your child an over-the-counter decongestant medicine may help. Check with your doctor to see which medicines are okay to use.

Why not take antibiotics?

Taking antibiotics that your body doesn't really need can be harmful. After each antibiotic, your child is more likely to have resistant germs in his or her nose. If your child gets infected again, it's more likely to be with these resistant germs. Resistant germs aren't killed by the usual antibiotics.

If your child gets infected with a resistant germ, it might be necessary to use more expensive and powerful antibiotics or even antibiotics that have to be given in the hospital. Because a runny nose generally gets better by itself, it's best to wait and take antibiotics only when your child's doctor says it is necessary.



Information in this handout was adapted from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention handout “Otitis Media with Effusion: Guide for Parents.”

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2000 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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